It’s hard to separate suits from a profound sense of obligation.
I’ve always lived in places for which they are thoroughly, climatically, ill-suited. Yet they are still donned on the regular. As a signal that something is being taken seriously. Or that wearers take themselves seriously.
There’s a separation there, which has historical roots. But makes less and less sense with mass production and the shift of power away from the West.
The expectation-filling that guides (forces?) people to wear suits to work, weddings , court and interviews also seems thoroughly at odds with the notion of it as a symbol of power.
I’ve never seen this articulated as powerfully as in this Vox piece on the decline of suits:
Although the suit is historically associated with projecting elegance, authority, and mastery of a profession, those qualities hearken back to the days when suits were prevalent, worn by the Atticus Finches and Don Drapers of the world. How long until we realize the suit — while still used for special occasions and by a shrinking number of traditionalists — has become associated with the opposite? The suit has become a uniform for the powerless….
….When you’re in control, at least in relative control, from the C-suite down to the long rectangular table in the open-air office, you wear whatever you want, which is almost never a suit. It is the vest or bomber jacket for men , a blouse or a shell top for women…
There is a class element here – which the piece goes into. After all, the decline of the suit as de facto serious person attire is largely taking place in a handful of industries, countries and social strata.
And, just as with school uniforms, there may be something to say for suits as something of a leveller. As a well-beaten path into “respectability“.
However, as suits become less normalised, and more explicitly worn for unpleasant occasions like court, will the association become more sour? Will the power of suits leech even more?